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In British history, a body of laws undertaking to provide relief for the poor, developed in 16th-century England and maintained, with various changes, until after World War II. The original laws provided relief, including care for the elderly, sick, and infant poor as well as work for the able-bodied through local parishes. Their scope was curtailed in the 1830s, when poverty among the able-bodied was considered a moral failing. The new law provided no relief for the able-bodied poor except employment in the workhouse, with the object of stimulating workers to seek regular employment rather than charity. In the 1930s and '40s the Poor Laws were replaced by a comprehensive system of public welfare services.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Poor Law, visit Britannica.com.
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